The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission’s governance standards spell out the standards registered charities need to comply with to ensure they operate responsibly and lawfully.
For example, governance standard 3 requires charities to not act in a way that, under Commonwealth, state or territory law, could be dealt with as:
- an indictable offence (being a serious crime that is generally tried by a judge and a jury) or
- a breach of law that has a civil (not criminal) penalty of 560 penalty units (currently $12,600) or more.
The Morrison government recently put forward a plan detailing proposed changes to expand the scope of governance standard 3. FIA has made a submission with our concerns on behalf of our members and the broader fundraising sector.
Under the proposal, the ACNC Commissioner would be able to revoke an organisation’s charity status and take away its charity tax concessions if it “reasonably believes” its members are likely to commit an offence. This means it’s not necessary for a charity to be charged or found guilty of an offence for the ACNC to take enforcement action.
FIA members could face deregistration for supporting peaceful protests or failing to stop their resources from being used at such events. It also means that the ACNC could revoke charity status for holding unlawful gatherings or remaining on land or in a building.
The expansion of this standard could be used to silence charities when it comes to advocacy work and criticism of government policy. That is of particular concern for our members who work on the frontlines for humanitarian aid, homelessness, domestic violence and environmental issues.
Charities could also be deregistered for failing to keep adequate records about their compliance with this standard. This would add additional red tape to an already heavily regulated sector. The Morrison government has said it’s committed to easing administrative burdens on charities, so this move would seriously undermine that commitment.
In the 2018 review of the ACNC legislation, repeal of governance standard 3 was recommended because it was not considered appropriate as a governance standard. This standard has also been heavily criticised by other charity law experts.
FIA has always been supportive of the ACNC’s role in ensuring that public confidence in the charitable fundraising sector is maintained. And we would never condone violent or illegal activity on the part of our members and the wider fundraising community. But we’re against any changes to governance standards that would prevent our members from expressing views about government policy or undertaking their advocacy work in a peaceful manner. Our members must be allowed to speak out for their constituents and the causes they serve.
Twelve fundraisers become FIA Fellows
In happier news, we held our annual general meeting two weeks ago. Our first-ever Zoom AGM yielded a great result and our best attendance: 52 members! The best part of the meeting was elevating 12 members to FIA Fellow status. This initiative recognises all fundraisers who have made significant contributions to FIA and the fundraising community and have developed a sterling reputation for their ethical best practice. You can read an article about who made this year’s cut in this edition.
Last Wednesday night, I spoke via Zoom at Insamlingsforum, the annual conference organised by Giva Sverige (the Swedish Fundraising Association). I would have loved to be there in person, but alas, it was not to be due to the ongoing pandemic. It was still a great experience to talk about the FIA Code and mystery shopping program, and I was delighted to be asked.
This month I gave an interview to content producer and reporter Velvet-Belle Templeman at Which-50, a news site that focuses on digital transformation. In this video interview, I talked about how not-for-profits and charities are using technology in marketing and fundraising and how technology has allowed them to innovate.
Charities are doing some fantastic work with technology, and I’m glad to see more of them are making investments and improvements in this area. You can read Velvet-Belle’s excellent cover story and watch the video package here. You can also watch my extended video interview with her here.
Chief Executive Officer